By Steve Gorman and Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Prince and George Michael, two Grammy-winning pop veterans who died unexpectedly months apart last year, were honored with special musical tributes from younger stars on Sunday during the recording industry's top awards show.
The memorial segments were decidedly different in tone and delivery, accounting for two of the emotional highlights during the 3 1/2-hour-plus live CBS broadcast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The Prince tribute was a raucous, dance-filled celebration capped by Bruno Mars, clad in a sequined purple jacket and white scarf playing "Let's Go Crazy," a signature hit of his late musical hero. Former Prince collaborators Morris Day & the Time preceded Mars with an equally energetic performance of two songs co-written by their one-time associate - "Jungle Love" and "The Bird."
Earlier in the evening, Adele paid homage to Michael in a delicately rendered, somber version of his 1996 dance tune "Fastlove," which she sang as video clips of her fellow British singer-songwriter flashed on a large screen.
Her salute got off to a rocky start, however. She stumbled in the opening chords, paused and cursed, asking to start again.
"I'm sorry. I know it's live TV," she said. "I can't mess this up for him (Michael)," she said.
The flub, and the bleeped profanity, marked a rare misstep for a singer known for flawless vocal performances. She was visibly upset at the end of the song, her eyes welling with tears, but the star-studded audience inside the Staples Center gave her a standing ovation.
The two posthumously honored artists, both known for provocative performance styles and lyrics, each hit their creative strides in the 1980s - Prince with the blockbuster album and motion picture "Purple Rain" and Michael as part of the British pop duo Wham!
Prince, a Minnesota-based musician who blended elements of jazz, funk, R&B, disco and rock in a prolific output of more than 30 albums, earned a reputation as one of the most inventive and eccentric forces in American pop music.
The seven-time Grammy winner died last April at age 57, suffering a fatal prescription drug overdose at his Paisley Park home and studio near Minneapolis.
Michael, who first gained fame with Andrew Ridgeley in Wham!, launched a successful solo career after parting with his former school chum in 1986, going on to churn out such hits as "I Want your Sex," "Faith," "Father Figure" and "One More Try."
He was found dead at his British home on Christmas Day, aged 53. The two-time Grammy winner was said by his manager to have died of heart failure, but the official cause remains under investigation.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Rigby)